Memories of Macedonia 1992-3

By Andrew Leech (

Most of you will, no doubt, have read of the renewed political interest in the name of the little country to the north of Greece that has, for many years, been borrowing Greek history to add to its own. And those of you
with memories going back to 1992-3 will, perhaps remember how much ELT NEWS contributed to the verbal conflict raging at the time, with trenchant articles spread over a dozen or more copies that resulted in a torrent of replies and other correspondence. In fact, I believe ELT NEWS did more than any other Greek newspaper to explain the Greek position to those abroad who were wrongly convinced, then, that Greece intended to go to war under the banner “Macedonia is Greek.”

For many reasons, this period holds precious memories for me; probably the most precious being the thought I could continue the family tradition and do something of benefit to my adopted country. So, if I may be so bold as to voice my own little contribution, it was helping to avoid EU recognition of Fyrom as Macedonia.

When I heard about the proposed recognition, planned for the Summit Conference of12th December, 1992 – and also saw how the foreign press were treating Greece - they had completely misunderstood the statement: “Macedonia is Greek,” - some explanation was obviously necessary

I phoned my next door neighbour in London, Lord Fraser of Kilmorack (former Deputy Chairman, Conservative Party) and carefully explained the ins and outs of what diplomatic furore was likely to result if Greece was not supported or, at least, understood in the position it had taken on this matter. He then went to see Douglas Hurd (then British Secretary for Foreign Affairs) and we later discussed the matter further on the phone.

The result was that everything else on the EU Agenda was drawn out as lengthily as possible; leaving no time for discussion on the proposed recognition of Skopia as Macedonia. That matter was then moved to the next summit meeting scheduled for March 1993. A further point was that an article I wrote – and forwarded to Lord Fraser – explaining the Greek position, was distributed and discussed in the British House of Lords. Fortunately favourably received, it won Greece further support.

The next step was contacting Virginia Tsouderou (then Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs) and explaining what had transpired; pointing out that Greece now had three months grace till the next EU Summit which gave time for the subject to be presented at the United Nations. I also took this opportunity to make polite suggestions as to the manner of its presentation; in particular omitting those highly volatile nationalistic slogans that could be so easily misinterpreted in another language! Instead I advocated focussing solely on history and tradition to support Greek claims.

The upshot was that Michael Papaconstantinou, after suitable coaching, went to the UN and brilliantly argued the case for Greece. This had the effect of obtaining an injunction on the use of the name Macedonia, and renaming the country in question (Skopia) with the interim name of Fyrom until the two governments could sit down, discuss, and find one agreeable to both parties.

Unfortunately, the time gained then has been, from my point of view, immorally squandered; and no Greek government since 1993 has managed to capitalise on what was achieved. In fact, they may have lost all the gains handed to them, gratis, on a silver platter! What a pity!

At this point I am reminded of the words of Monty Woodhouse (responsible for blowing up the Gorgopotamos and Asopos bridges in WW2) in one of our last interviews before his death. “The problem with various Greek governments has been the way in which they treated gift horses. They always spent so much time examining the teeth, the poor animal died before it could be of any service.”

From 1993 onwards Greece has been the friendliest of neighbours to Fyrom. They have supported the local currency and poured in so much aid and technology that more than half of the local industry is ‘Greek built.’ In fact, if Greece were to remove its economic support for even a single month, Fyrom would be totally bankrupt! And, yet, throughout all this period no Greek government (and no Greek industrialist, either, I would hazard) has used this muscle to bring about an end to this long drawn out ‘wrangle of nomenclature.’ It is an interesting comparison to imagine what the USA would have done in such circumstances. Probably, soon after the economic help, the country would have been incorporated as another state!

To add final food for thought, I would like to refer to part of my 1992 article. “From a completely non-political and non-party point of view I believe that to ensure fairness to both countries and to promote future stability, autonomy and prosperity in the region, the question of the name must be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. If we are going to be fair to all the inhabitants of Greater Macedonia, then the names should reflect the areas they occupy and be historically correct: Greece could alter the name of its province of Macedonia to Aegean, or South, Macedonia and the northern section (Skopje-Macedonia) could become the sovereign state of Vardar, Slavo or North Macedonia. This solution would preserve the common history, as well as the national differences, of the region; and the borders would stay as they are — and as they have been since 1913. However there are still many Greeks who object to the use of the name Macedonia in any form, fearing future conflict, and the Skopjians reject any compromise.

It would also be very nice if Vardar-Macedonia would stop its “borrowing“ of Greek history. The Slavo-Macedonians arrived in the 5th century AD — and are part of Macedonian history from that date — but they are not part of it before. If you don’t believe that the misuse of history engenders an immense amount of emotion and hatred, then try telling a Brit that “the Magna Carta was drawn up by a group of French nobles temporarily resident in Britain at the time“, or an American that the Declaration Of Independence was “a quasi-commercial document designed to legalise the actions of a group of British Colonists who did not want to contribute taxes to the country that had raised, educated and equipped them“; not to mention telling an Irishman that “Cromwell’s actions in Ireland were for the overall good of the Irish people“. A nation’s history is a nation’s pride and you tamper with it at your peril.

NB.The full text of the 1992 article can be found on: Hellenic Community Service (
Words: 1094

(Posted December 2007. Previously published in ELT News December 2007.)

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